Friday, December 2, 2011

Buying Bewilderment

Outside the wind is sharp, snowcold. The last of the deciduous leaves are blowing, swirling, dancing in the wind. Fall is turning now to winter. Watching the wind sculpt leaves into whirlwind shapes, I am thinking of Mystery.

Mystery was the first of the Big Three Essentials Gary Ferguson talked about in his keynote speech at the Fall Gala, and in many ways the hardest, at least for me, to talk about. Somehow it is easier for me to talk about words like Community and Beauty. With all the emphasis HCPC has on bringing the latest and best science to public lands management, Mystery may seem foreign, out of place, belonging to a different world. From my perspective, though, Mystery is at the heart of science.

Mystery is about what we don’t know, what we yet don’t understand. It’s the questions we don’t have the answers to. And it is in questions where science begins. Science doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, and certainly not immutable ones. Science tests hypothesis after hypothesis; gathers information, shakes it all up, and then looks for patterns.

At its best, science does not confuse the descriptions of the patterns we see with the actual reality. Science is content to say “this is our best understanding at this time”. Science lives side by side with the unknown and the unknowable, comfortable within its own limits. Humble even.

Humility seems to be required by both Mystery and Science, along with wonder, amazement, and delight.

I am still amazed that trees breathe in the carbon dioxide that would poison us, and breathe out the oxygen we need. I am still delighted that the chlorophyll in leaves is so similar to the hemoglobin in my blood, one centered around copper, the other centered around iron. I am still struck with wonder that a gigantic tree can grow from such a tiny seed.

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” – Rumi

This quote is what Gary Ferguson chose to wrap up his keynote speech. I think of cleverness not only as the antithesis of bewilderment but also of humility, of that open place where journeys begin.

There’s no need to pretend we have all the answers. We start with where we are, do the best we can with what we know, seek to learn more as science makes available more knowledge, and move forward with this vital work to protect, defend, restore, and love these wild places we call home.

Begin with Mystery, and bewilderment. Be wilder.

- Danae Yurgel

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